Dr. Sorcha O’Brien

BDes (NCAD), MA (Middlesex), PhD (Brighton), ANCAD

Assistant Lecturer in Design History

I am a design historian interested in technology and identity, in both physical and digital forms. I completed my AHRC-funded PhD dissertation on the representation of electrical technology in 1920s Ireland at the University of Brighton, which was published in 2017 by Irish Academic Press. I have previously taught design history at IADT, Dun Laoghaire and Kingston University, London. 

I am interested in broad issues surrounding technology and identity in design, whether digital or analogue. With a background in industrial and digital design, I am interested in issues surrounding the design of computers and networked devices at work and in the home, critical design and the creation of online and filmic worlds, as well as the pedagogy involved in using digital technology in education.

I was an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow from 2016-19, through Kingston University, working on a research project on the introduction of electrical products into the Irish home in the wake of rural electrification in the 1950s and 1960s, in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland. Although domestic electric products were seen as modernising technologies in many other countries, this project uses object analysis, archival research and oral history to consider to what extent these meanings held in the Republic of Ireland. 

https://electricirishhomes.org/

A major output of this project was the curation of the Kitchen Power: Women’s Experiences of Rural Electrification in the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life from July 2019 to January 2021.

Details on the National Museum of Ireland website here

Twitter: @electricIEhomes

Instagram: @ElectricIrishHomes

Articles:

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) 'Made in Ireland'? National narratives and hybrid identities in Irish design history. Writing Visual Culture, 8. Available here.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2014) Review of The Story of Design. Journal of Design History, 27(4), pp. 413-414.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2011) Exhibition Review of: 'The moderns: the arts in Ireland from the 1900s to the 1970s' at The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. Artefact(5), pp. 83-89.

Books:

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Powering the Nation: Images of the Shannon Scheme and Electricity in Ireland. Newbridge: Irish Academic Press.

Edwards, Clive; O'Brien, Sorcha; Atkinson, Harriet; Kettley, Sarah; Bhagat, Dipti; Raizman, David and Willis, Anne-Marie, eds. (2015) Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Moran, Anna and O'Brien, Sorcha, eds. (2014) Love Objects: Emotion, Design and Material Culture. London: Bloomsbury.

Book Sections:

‘Visions of Home: Nostalgia and Mobility, Past and Future in Serenity’s Domestic Spaceship Interior’ in Pat Kirkham & Sarah Lichtman (eds.) Screen Interiors: From Country Houses to Cosmic Heteropias, London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming April 2021

‘Brown Bread and Washing Machines: Nostalgia and Perspective in Irish Women’s Experiences of Rural Electrification’ in Abigail Harrison Moore & Ruth Sandwell (eds.) In A New Light: Histories of Women and Energy, 1800-1990, Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, forthcoming Spring 2021

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Bouroullec, Ronan (1971–) and Erwan (1976–). in: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 184.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Dunne & Raby (Dunne, Anthony 1964–; Raby, Fiona 1963–). in: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 444-445.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Guixé, Martí (1964–). in: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 124.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Heatherwick, Thomas (1970–). in: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 139.

O'Brien, Sorcha and Chesters, Robert (2016) Jongerius, Hella (1963-). in: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 262.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Rittel, Horst (1930–90). in: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 163-164.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2011) Technology and modernity: the Shannon Scheme and visions of national progress. in: King, Linda and Sisson, Elaine, (eds.) Ireland, Design and Visual Culture: Negotiating Modernity, 1922-1992. Cork: Cork University Press. pp. 59-71.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2009) Images of Ardnacrusha: Photography, Electrical Technology, and Modernity in the Irish Free State. in: Flannery, Eoin and Griffin, Michael, (eds.) Ireland in Focus: film, photography, and popular culture. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. pp. 71-85.

O'Brien, Sorcha (2009) Photographic connections: electrical technology in the making of Ireland in the 1920s. in: Glynne, Jonathan , Hackney, Fiona and Minton, Viv, (eds.) Networks of Design: Proceedings of the 2008 Annual International Conference of the Design History Society (UK): University College Falmouth 3-6 September. Boca Raton, FL: Universal Publishers. pp. 246-253.

‘MUJI: A study of nation, international and corporate identity’ in Nicola Gordon Bowe (ed.) Thought Lines: An Anthology of Student Research, Dublin: National College of Art & Design, 1998

  • Design History Society Virtual Conference Grant for Kitchen Power: National Parallels, 2020
  •  Arts and Humanities Research Council Leadership Fellow, ‘The Electrification of the Rural Irish Home: Housewives, Electrical Products and Domesticity in the 1950s and 1960s’ in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland, 2016-19
  •  Design History Society Research Travel Grant, 2015
  •  Fundació Història del Disseny 2nd Alfaro Hofmann Collection Research Grant for the Study of Domestic Appliances: The Vacuum Cleaner, 2015
  •  Society for the History of Technology Brooke Hindle Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2014
  •  Society for the History of Technology Travel Grant, 2007
  •   Arts and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Scholar, 2005 - 11
  • Royal Hibernian Academy Thomas Damman Junior Memorial Trust Award, 2005

Invited Talks:

  • ‘Kitchen Power: Women’s Experiences of Rural Electrification’, public lecture, Roscommon County Council, September 2019 
  • ‘Kitchen Promises: Keeping the Country Girls at Home with Rural Electrification’, Dublin One City One Book festival, Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, April 2019
  • Researching Housewives, Electrical Products and Domesticity in 1950s and 1960s Rural Ireland’, invited research seminar, Royal College of Art, London, March 2017 and Trinity College Dublin, November 2018
  • ‘Powering the Nation: Images of the Shannon Scheme and Electricity in Ireland’, Limerick Historical Society, March 2018 and Dublin Festival of History, October 2017
  • ‘Using Oral History to research Electric Irish Homes’, Theorising Visual Art and Design (TVAD) research group talks, University of Hertfordshire, February 2018
  • ‘Electric Irish Homes: Oral History and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association’, invited workshops, Irish Countrywomen’s Association headquarters, An Grianán, Co. Louth, September 2017
  • The Things I Love the Most’, public talk at the Galway International Arts Festival: First Thought Talks, July 2015
  • ‘Men, Machines and Tourists: Visual Representations of the Shannon Scheme from advertisements to postcards’, public lecture at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, October 2012
  • ‘Marvers, Machines and MakerBots: Historical Perspectives on Technology in Irish Cultural Production’, keynote lecture at Between Art and Industry: New Models in a Post Industrial World, Crafts Council of Ireland, Kilkenny, June 2012

Select Conference Presentations:

  • ‘‘The Light of Heaven to our Souls’: Rural Electrification and Domestic Light in Ireland’, Light Switch online symposium, Science Gallery, November 2020
  • ‘Kitchen Power: Modernity, Tradition and Gender Roles during Irish Rural Electrification’, Kitchen Power: National Parallels online symposium, NMI/NCAD, September 2020
  • ‘Kitchen Promises: Aspiration and Reality during Irish Rural Electrification’, Modernism in the Home, Birmingham (online presentation), July 2019 
  • ‘Kitchen Promises: Rural Electrification in 1950s and 1960s Ireland’, Working for the Home symposium, Trinity College Dublin, February 2019
  • ‘Electrical Demonstrators and Irish Countrywomen: Official and Voluntary Promotion of Irish Rural Electrification’, Material and Consumer Culture network European Social Science History Conference, Belfast, April 2018
  • ‘Made in Ireland’? National Narratives and Transnational Networks in Irish Design History’, Making and Unmaking the Environment, Design History Society Annual Conference, September 2017
  • ‘Brown Bread and Washing Machines: Nostalgia and Perspective in Irish Women’s Experience of Rural Electrification’, Oral Histories of Work & Leisure, Oral History Network of Ireland Annual Conference, Galway, June 2017
  • ‘Researching Housewives, Electrical Products and Domesticity in 1950s and 1960s Rural Ireland’, Domesticating Energy conference, Cambridge, May 2017
  • ‘Shining Clean Machines: The Promotion of Vacuum Cleaners in 1950s and 1960s Ireland’, Mise Éire: Shaping a Nation Through Design, National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, Dublin, November 2016
  • 'Visions of Home: Nostalgia and Mobility in Serenity's Domestic Interior', Interiors: Film, Theatre, Television, Parsons School of Design, New York, November 2016
  • ‘‘Look What Santa's Brought for You, Mummy’: Women, Domesticity and the Vacuum Cleaner in 1950s and 1960s Ireland’, Historical Geographies of Home session at the 16th International Conference of Historical Geographers, July 2015 and Irish Women and Rural Society: From Medieval to Modern, Women’s History Association of Ireland, Queen’s University Belfast, March 2016
  • ‘The Domestic Spaceship: Visions of Future Home-Making in the Production Design of Serenity's Communal Living Spaces’, at How We Live and How We Might Live, Design History Society annual conference, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, September 2015
  • ‘Power Games: British and German Influences in Irish Electrical Power Generation Architecture’, at the Latitudes: Irish Studies in an International Context/Banbha i gCéin, ACIS/CAIS, Dublin, June 2014
  • ‘Making Meaning with Ephemera – Electrical Technology and Irish National Identity in the 1920s’, Material and Consumer Culture network, European Social Science History Conference, Vienna, April 2014
  • The Shannon Scheme: Technology, Modernity and National Identity in the Irish Free State’, Ireland and Modernity: An Interdisciplinary Conference, Queens University, Belfast, November 2010
  • ‘Photographic Connections: electrical technology in the making in Ireland in the 1920s’, Networks of Design, Design History Society, Falmouth, September 2008 
  • ‘National Style and the Imagined Community: the transfer of electricity generation from Germany to Ireland, 1924-1932’, International Committee for the History of Technology, Copenhagen, August 2007
  • ‘The Shannon Scheme: Representing Technology, Modernity and National Identity in the Irish Free State, 1924-32’, Seeing Things: Irish Studies and Visual Culture, University of Limerick, June 2007

Media:

  • Respondent, Davis Now lecture by Ellen Rowley, RTÉ Radio 1, January 2020
  • Interview for the Egg Money documentary on women in rural Ireland, Newstalk FM, November 2019
  • Television interview for RTÉ One News and Six One News, RTÉ 1, July 2019
  • Radio interviews for Morning Ireland, RTÉ Radio 1, Culture File, RTÉ Lyric FM, Midwest Radio and Castlebar Community Radio, July 2019
  • Radio interviews for The Pat Kenny Show, NewstalkFM, Limerick LiveFM and ClareFM, January and July 2018